In my many years of working in early childhood education I have primarily worked in preschool; ages 3-6. I have some Out of School Care; 5-12 and some infant experience as well. During these experiences I have encountered a few types of curriculums. The first type I was excited to find as a young teacher because it told me exactly what to teach in what month in a theme format; Called Theme based planning. The second was the cute and fun printables that gave me a lot of “stuff” to decorate with and use. The third type of curriculum I discovered was Early Childhood Theory that seemed vague and needed interpretation. When I compare these curriculums to my first impressions of the Alberta Flight Framework I see marked differences in the language, presentation and execution of the information.
The theme-based resources I once used were packed full of fun activities, songs, games and ideas. It made planning out a year easier when all I needed to do was open the book and follow along. I would add a few extra ideas that I though my specific group of children would like; but mostly I followed along. It was fun! I had a lot of ideas all in one place. In the text “Developmentally Appropriate Practice: From Birth to 8 Years (Bredekamp, 1987) The author outlines that based upon developmental theory from theorists like Jean Piaget “The how (you teach) is as important as the specific content…the teacher plays a critical role as “decision maker”, motivator, model, innovator, environmental planner, and evaluator.” The theme-based curriculum lends nicely to this theory. The teacher is the leader presenting concepts and the children are the receivers. This idea works for some children; but it does not work for many children. The issue with this type of approach is it does not see the children as individuals and as capable learners who have their own ideas about what they want to learn. In the Alberta Curriculum Framework: Flight the image of the child is that of a “Mighty Learner” and “Citizen”. This approach focuses on what the child is interested in and how the child learns individually, rather than as a group. Flight considers children as co-constructors of knowledge developed through individual experiences and reciprocal relationships. “Learning environments that provide multiple opportunities for children to actively explore ideas and materials and talk about their play and learning endeavours and themselves as learners” are environments that let children actively co-construct knowledge and are environments where educators are constantly learning about each child’s thoughts and processes. (FLIGHT: 1.5, pp29) The difference between Flight and Theme Planning is that the child is respected and seen as the leader rather than the teacher’s ideas being the focus and the teacher as the leader. I wonder how to incorporate the good parts of theme planning – the collection of related ideas, the variety of activities and the fun that goes with feeling like this week is “special” in a theme – with the open-ended presentation of Flight’s planning. My first attempts at doing this led me to move from grid-based planning sheet to a flow chart planning style. Using the dispositions listed in Flight to inspire the base questions. “Who in the community can help us learn? When will we nurture dispositions? How can we nurture dispositions? Where can we explore? What materials can we use?” These guiding questions help me to plan a flexible, responsive activity plan that can eb and flow with what the children are responding to while sharing the teacher’s intent for nurturing specific ideas.
The printables curriculums are similar to that of the theme based. It is a teacher-led process that is decided, usually, without input from the children. In this style the playroom is decorated in banners. Posters, flags and other paper printed elements usually on one idea or theme. The activity tables would have the matching worksheets and booklets presented for the children to do; and some printables packages even have parent newsletters you can photocopy and hand out. While this can seem handy, I wonder where are the children and their individual expressions and interests reflected in this? Where is the evidence of play and learning? “Worksheets are DIP (developmentally inappropriate practice) and do not support children to be expressive. Children learn when they are engaged with materials. Worksheets are the status quo for some, and it is difficult to let go of practices that have become ingrained.” (Diane Kashin. Step Away from The Photocopier: Learning through play, 2015) I, myself, still like to use some printables in my preschool room. I just use them differently now. Instead of providing full room set ups and worksheet tables I use the resources to further what the children are interested in. For example, our Things That Move interests had the children more interested in cars than in Planes. I printed some foldable, 3-D cars that they could personalize and use in play. For me this personalization and active use of the item lends itself to the concept in Flight of Responsive Environments. “Creating responsive environments requires awareness that the image of the child – a mighty learner and citizen – must continually reflected on as educators respond to children’s interests and exploration through the design elements of time, space, materials, and participation.” (Flight: 2.4, pp64) In my example I focused on the materials and participation in the activity. I responded to their observed interests and provided a material that they could personalize and actively use in play.
While Early Childhood Developmental Theory is valuable and still forms the basis of more modern documents, such as Flight, it can be hard to consume and interpret and to turn the learned messages into activity in the playroom. I read Theories into Practice document (Teaching Solutions, 1968) and it describes theories this way, “In the field of early childhood education and care, a theory is a group of ideas that explain a certain topic within the domain of children’s learning and development. Typically, a theory is developed through the use of thoughtful and rational forms of abstract and generalised thinking. In addition, a theory is often based on general principles that are independent of what is being explained. So, someone who considers given facts and comes up with a possible explanation for those facts is called a theorist.” All this developmental theory helps to serve an understanding and a basis for how one works with children; yet it does not tell a teacher how to directly apply the concepts in the playroom. In Flight the focus is on educating the educator on how children learn, On Learning dispositions. These disposition help educators develop their curriculums so that all children in the playroom have the chance to learn and grow. “The rationale for nurturing each child’s dispositions to learn recognizes the experiential learning process unique to each child.” (Flight: 3.2. pp116) The dispositions include playing and playfulness, seeking, participating, persisting, and caring. A teacher focusing on building a curriculum based on these dispositions would be able to provide appropriate care for all the children in their care. A teacher that focuses on one or two historic developmental theories may only focus on language, for example, as that is what they were told was important at a specific age or stage.
The presentation of the Flight framework is written in easy-to-understand language full of examples that one can use to reflect on their own practice. It is divided up into sections: 1-Introduction, 2-The Curriculum Framework Core Concept, 3- Curriculum Meaning Making: Goals and Dispositions, Glossary and Endnotes. This division of information makes it easier to read than traditional developmental theories that are usually divided up by each theorist and the year it was published or the stage of child development it speaks of.
For me, as an Early Childhood Educator I find the application of the flight principles easier to learn and more easy to incorporate into my daily work with children. It is less a “to do “guide of the curriculum books I once had, nor is it a printable or worksheet pack to hand out and be done. It is also not pages and pages of phycological and developmental theory to read and interpret. It is a useable field guide manual that I can flip through, read and reread and write in and mark pages. It is a living curriculum that inspires me as an educator to focus on the image of the child as I create my curriculum.
In answering the question “What are your experiences with different types of curriculums?” I have paused to explore what I have done in the past and compared it to the process I am learning to educate on today. Some things are similar, and some are vastly different. The holistic approach of Flight makes this a long-term strategy for developing my pedagogy. The concepts will not change over time, and they are intrinsic to the human experience. The framework is less a curriculum and more of a reflection of what is happening in playrooms all across Canada.
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Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early Childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Nolan, A., & Raban-Bisby, B. (2016). Theories into Practice: Understanding and rethinking our work with young children and The Eylf. Teaching Solutions.
Makovichuk, L., et al.(2014). Flight; Alberta’s early learning and care framework. Retrieved from flightframework.ca.